They have even become a staple in many physician’s practices: cardiologists prescribe fish oil, ophthalmologists use eye vitamins, gastroenterologists have found probiotics beneficial, obstetricians have been recommending prenatal vitamins for many years, and emergency room doctors use the amino acid NAC (N acetyl cysteine) to treat Tylenol-induced liver failure.
The metabolism expert, James LaValle RPh, CCN, stresses the importance of counseling patients on the use of supplements because nutritional approaches and lifestyle changes alone aren’t always enough to address health problems at hand.
The challenge for us a society is that we are all to some degree deficient in key nutrients.
Why is that?
- Nutritional needs have changed as we evolved from hunter-gathers and peasant-farmers to highly technical societies dependent on artificial food processing.
- Our ancestors ate real food, but we moderns specialize in minimum wage nutrition.
- Processed foods have no nutrients or worse yet, act like anti-nutrients-further depleting our needs.
- Industrial farming has led to depleted soils.
- Our unbalanced lives create further deterioration from an abundance of chronic stress, disease, and medication use.
- The explosion of environmental toxins and pollutants often results in stressors to our biochemistry.
- Exercise regularly taxes our metabolic system and creates imbalances.
This has all lead to marked deficiencies of our population with the most common effected nutrients being omega 3 fats, vitamin D, B vitamins (especially B6, B12, and folate), magnesium and zinc.
“I think of supplements like clothes- they are not strictly natural, although they are made of natural ingredients. They don’t have any downsides if used properly (as opposed to medications), and as every year passes, have more and more proven benefits.” – Patrick Holford, nutritionist
According to Dr. Mark Hyman the potential problems with most supplements include:
- The form of the nutrient may be cheap and poorly absorbed or used by the body.
- The dosage on the label may not match the dose in the pill.
- It may be filled with additives, colors, fillers, or allergens.
- The raw materials may not be tested for toxins such as mercury or lead, or may not be consistent from batch to batch.
- The factory in which it is produced doesn’t follow good manufacturing standards, so products may vary greatly in quality
This can be seen in some of the most popular brands such as Centrum (owned by Pfizer) and One a Day vitamins (owned by Bayer). These products are made with cheap additives and fillers and produced by pharmaceutical companies with no experience in quality supplements but rather bent on keeping costs low for maximum profits. Furthermore, popular retailers like GNC are not much better-their poor manufacturing standards were exposed on “60 minutes.”
Don’t fall in the trap of the uneducated media who reflexively report negative supplement studies produced by faulty science.
It is inappropriate to treat a supplement like a drug; one cheap supplement will not produce significant results and thus will be labeled a failure. Nutrients such as antioxidants and minerals often work better in combinations. Furthermore, they often make medicines work better as was shown when the addition of fish oil added to the heart disease reduction of cholesterol medicines known as statins.